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When Anna Leonowens is brought to Siam (now Thailand) in the 1860s, to be governess to the King of Siam’s many children, there is initially a culture clash between Anna and the King.  Both have preconceptions about the other’s respective country, and when Anna is not given the house which she was promised in her contract, she threatens to leave.  However, she falls in love with the children, and decides to stay, and both the King and Anna come to regard each other with respect and warmth.

Anna Leonowens was a real person, and this film is based on the novel Anna and the King of Siam, by Margaret Landon.  That novel was based on the diaries of Anna Leonowens, but it should probably be noted that the events are today disputed.  Also, this film was considered so offensive to the Royal Family of Thailand, due to its historical inaccuracies, that it is actually banned there.

As pure entertainment however, this film did tick all the boxes for me.  I would have liked to have seen more Thai actors playing Thai (Siamese) roles, and if this film were to be made today, hopefully that would happen.  Here, we have Deborah Kerr, who I always enjoy watching, as Anna, and Yul Brynner as the King.  Incredibly, this is the first Yul Brynner film I have ever seen, and any future ones will have a lot to live up to, because I absolutely adored his portrayal of the King (even if a lot of dramatic licence was used in his character).  There was real chemistry between the two leads, and Brynner was really funny throughout; I particularly enjoyed his boyish insistence that Anna’s head always be lower than his, and his constant, and sometimes inappropriate use of the phrase “etcetera, etcetera, etcetera,” after he hears Anna use it when she arrives, and she tells him what it means.  Incidentally, Brynner played the same role on stage, in over 4000 performances –  no wonder he inhabited the character so well, and with such charisma.

The film is also beautiful to look at, with an explosion of colour, and there is always lots happening on screen.  In addition, there are some lovely songs, including Shall We Dance? and Getting to Know You.  I also liked the beautifully danced, and wholly inaccurate interpretation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was put on for the benefit of a visiting English envoy.

Don’t watch this film if you genuinely want to learn more about the events or period upon which it is based.  But if you like musicals, and want to listen to some lovely songs, and watch a terrific central performance, then give it a try.  I’ll definitely be watching it again in the future.

Year of release: 1956

Director: Walter Lang

Producers: Darryl F. Zanuck, Charles Brackett

Writers: Margaret Langdon (novel ‘Anna and the King of Siam’), Ernest Lehman, Oscar Hammerstein II

Main cast: Yul Brynner, Deborah Kerr, Rita Moreno, Martin Benson, Rex Thompson

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